It should be understood that I am speaking at the present moment only of the craft degrees. I have every reason to know that the high grades do not deserve the unqualified condemnation with which they have been set aside by writers like Ragon and by certain expositors of the German school of Masonic thought. Several of them are great rites which embody important mystic teaching, and without some of them I regard the craft degrees as offering, mystically speaking, an unfinished
experience. Those, however, who are familiar with the craft rituals--about which I do not intend to speak otherwise than by assuming such knowledge--will be in a position to realise how far they can be said to embody an ethical doctrine, except as side-issues of their mystery. There is, of course, a very plain inculcation of certain obvious virtues, but it is all so slight, and it is all so obvious, that to speak of it as an ethical system seems to magnify the subject out of all due proportion. On the other hand, we do find certain provinces of knowledge recommended to the study of the candidate at one stage of his advancement. We find also certain illustrations of a great mystery of building, certain references to a secret which has been lost, and a great legend concerning the destruction of a master of knowledge who took away with him that secret, and except under very deep veils, outside all craft Masonry, it has not been since recovered. As I have quoted Ragon in a connection which was necessarily unfavourable, let me now cite him in a different sense. He has said that when we find in Masonry and in some other secret ways of the past a reference to building--whether of temples, palaces, or towns--what is intended is that there was a manifestation of doctrine; in other words, there was an ordered communication of mysteries. As to the great majority of instances, I believe in this as little as I believe that Troy town was a solar mythos; but in respect of craft Masonry it is the one note of illumination in Ragon's great wild of speculation and discursion on the degrees, high and otherwise, of the fraternity. We may be quite certain that those who transformed the building guild did not intend to put forward an historical thesis. The change which took place presupposes such a spiritualisation of the traditional temple that it passes into the world of symbolism, becoming itself a House of Doctrine. If, apart from the question of mystical death and rebirth, which I have set aside from consideration in this paper, we are to look anywhere
for another clue, it is in the amazing inference which follows from the craft legend concerning the stultification of the House of Doctrine before its erection was finished. Those who are familiar with the rituals will understand exactly what I mean, and I give this as the key by which any one who is properly qualified, and who chooses, may really open one of the secret sanctuaries. We know that the Master was asked one little question, and that for one little answer which he declined to make the traditional founder of doctrine came to an end of violence; the mysteries which he reserved perished in his person, and although it has never been noticed so far by any Masonic writer in the living world, it follows therefrom that the Great Symbolical Temple was not finished according to the original plans. It is for this reason that symbolically, if not actually, the True Temple still remains to be erected. Meanwhile, in Masonry, as in other institutions, we rest content as we can with certain conventional proxies in which we suppose, by a precarious hypothesis, which has, however, a profound meaning imbedded, that some analogy inheres. It is understood that two kings who represented at one time the royal houses of official Grace and Nature knew the canonical answer to the question, supposing that this had been put under the due warrants, but it is to be inferred that it was the verbal formula and not the ground-plan of the mystic building. In any case it remained Sacramentum Regis, the Secret of the King, and it follows, still speaking symbolically, that all Masonry derives not from a lodge of Masters but from that of an inferior grade. The missing formula was a word of life, and the locum tenens, by a contradistinctive analogy, is a word of death. It is for this reason that the whole corporate fraternity undertakes a Quest which is in rigid correspondence with that of the Round Table, but they move in the opposite direction to that in which the Mysteries repose. It is the most mystical of all inquests, for it is the history of our human life. But
there is an Orient from on high which in fine rises on the soul; the soul turns in that light and moves thenceforward in the true and one direction.
It is possible to express what follows from these facts in terms of comparative simplicity, for even as Moses came down from the mountain of God with a veil upon the face of him, so have I been speaking thus far to the mixed assembly of my readers under the veil of a careful reservation, because these things are not to be discussed in public without changing the voice. Let me say now more openly, since this is permitted, that the ideal of the True Temple is in our hearts, and it is there that we rebuild it. We do this daily by all the aspirations of our nature, but for want of the lost designs we have not been able to externalise it. No doubt we have not led the life which entitles us to know of the doctrine; we feel that it is implied and latent in all the roots of our being; and we seem to die with it on our lips. It speaks in our dreams but it uses an unknown language, and if heart utters it to heart, it is only in oracles. But we have conceived enough regarding it to be aware that the Spiritual Temple is a House not made with hands. And so neither Masonry nor any other one of the great instituted Mysteries has designed a rebuilding of material holy places. The rites of initiation may deal--as they do certainly--in parables and in allegories; they may present--and they do also--their particular forms of thought in the guise of a legend of yesterday, but they are really the legends of to-morrow, the expressed heart of expectation and not a retrospective review. But if this be the case--as it is indeed beyond challenge--what part have we otherwise in Masonry, seeing that we have come out of Jewry as others came out of Egypt? If this, I say, be the case, what manner of House was that which was planned of old in wisdom and was afterwards finished as it best could be, because treason fell upon the keeper, because, in the absence of preparation and title, there had been an attempt to take the Kingdom of
[paragraph continues] Heaven by violence? Let us seek our first illustrative answer from an episode of the Law which was once promulgated in Israel. Moses the prophet came down in his glory from Mount Sinai bringing with him the Tables of the Law, but he found his rebellious people unqualified for the high knowledge, and before the face of them he broke those tables. Afterwards he gave them indeed certain commandments, but I do not doubt that they were the shadows of the others only--the code of unruly children, not of the elected truly. The world was not worthy. And the second example is that which we know already--that the Graal was taken away, that something was missing thereafter from the House of Quest, that again the world was not worthy. The three stories are therefore one story, and the same thing is everywhere. It is so much everywhere that the knowledge which remained with Moses was not withdrawn utterly by him--according to the tradition of Israel--when he went up the mountain in fine, when no man living followed him, when he did not return ever more. It has been held always in Jewry that there were certain elders who received the secret deposit and transmitted it in their turn in secret, so that it was perpetuated from generation to generation till it became known to the world at large, but only in an imperfect form, about the middle period of the Christian centuries. The original Zohar is reported by a paradox to have been a sufficient load for twelve camels, and the extant Zohar is on its own showing a substitute. The correspondence in Graal literature is the disparting of the Hallows among certain holy hermits and the removal of the Sacred Vessel to that place of which Perceval should know surely and with all speed.
That which was made void, according to the great craft legend, was a non-Christian House of Doctrine. The step beyond this is to show that there is a parallel in Masonry concerning Christian doctrine, but it is found in high degrees and in those which are militantly
[paragraph continues] Christian. If I were asked to speak frankly, I should civil it a concealed legend of Templar vengeance. It is an old story in the high grades that the murder of Jacques de Molai was destined to be avenged heavily, and one section of criticism has concluded that this was effected ultimately by the decapitation of Louis XVI.; but this is romance of Faerie. Whether the supposed vengeance came otherwise to anything I am not prepared to say, but I can show that the secret plan was more deeply laid, though it may have been actuated by far different motives than inhere usually in the idea of vengeance. The plan is not illustrated by any legend of murder or by anything that, remotely or approximately, can suggest a vendetta; but in one Masonic grade which, by the hypothesis, is the last transformation of the Templars, the fact is shown forth by the silent eloquence of symbolism. As in the craft degrees we learn how the vital secret was taken away, so here the rite sets before us a picture of all Christendom, personified by the flower of its chivalry, standing guard, amidst the adjuncts of pomp and ceremony, over a vacant sepulchre--the shrine from which a God has departed. Could anything signify more profoundly the bereavement and widowhood of the Christian House of Doctrine? Could anything indicate more pregnantly the presence of a sub-surface design among the old Knights Templars, supposing that this grade were really, at some far distance, descended therefrom? Would it not seem like a challenge by the way of evasion, saying to the modern world: "Do you suppose, in your fondness, that about those hallows of the past our intention was ever centralised except to conceal it? "
Our next step takes us to a grade which is, comparatively speaking, obscure, though it is still worked in England. It is one the position and claim of which is a little difficult to determine, whether as to origin or history. On the surface its similarity to the eighteenth degree of Rose Croix has caused many persons to
repudiate it as a mere copy. The better view is, however, to infer that both rites originated from a common prototype, and I may mention here that there are not only several variants of the eighteenth degree incorporated by other systems, but there have also been Rosicrucian degrees current from time to time in Masonry which have very slight correspondence with the grade supereminent of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. This question apart, the particular chivalrous and Masonic Order is rendered important to our present purpose because it gives the symbolical counterpart by alternative of that intimation which is conveyed in the analogous grade. The latter represents a particular state of the assumed case at the period of the Crusades, the former at an epoch which--on account of several historical confusions, having an appearance of design--is scarcely possible to determine. In any event it dissolves at a certain stage into yet another degree, and between the successive points of the two rituals the candidate is brought to a period when all earthly Houses of Doctrine have given place to the high spiritual House of Eternal Wisdom. As a preliminary to this, the externalised House of Doctrine, represented by the Holy Sepulchre, is made subject to a simple visitation, with the result that it is found empty, and those who look therein are told in a veiled manner that in such a place it is useless to go in quest of lost secrets, because the Divine Warden thereof has risen and gone away. As the candidate--and this of necessity--is left always in the position of Satan after his lectures at Salamanca, that is to say, with the shadow instead of the substance, so here the chivalry of the sepulchre has to be content with what it has--with the rumour of the resurrection constructed into glad tidings, though it remains that the place of the Hallows is now an empty place.
Our last step takes us again to the literature of the Holy Graal, which depicts a House of Doctrine, like the temples, towns and palaces of which we have been
speaking previously. It shows how that House was in the first place visited by sin and sorrow; how secondly it was made void, the secret things thereto belonging being transferred therefrom. Symbolism has sometimes the way of sparing nothing, and probably the makers of the legend intended only--as some expressly say--to show how the realm of Logres had become unworthy of the most holy things; but the House of the Doctrine is involved in the common ruin.
The question which now supervenes is one which will occur spontaneously to all those who have followed this account. Is it intended to suggest--shall I say?--that the secret of Masonry is anti-Jewish and anti-Christian, or, to put it better, that the interests which took over the building guild had either never entered into those holy places of the past or had come forth therefrom? The answer is a decisive negative. It follows from all the legends, all the symbolism, or that part at least which is other than accidental, and in fine from all the rituals of Masonry, that those who set forth the widowhood of the House of Doctrine spoke not from without it but from within; that they looked for the return of that which, for the time, had been taken away; that when they speak to us of what was lost to Jewry, they were never more assured of the wisdom which once dwelt in Israel; that when they mourn over the Holy Sepulchre, they were never more certain that what has been removed is alive; and as all the degrees end in a substituted restoration it is also certain that thither where the truth and beauty had been taken they looked also to go. In other words, it is the intimation of the secret schools that somewhere in time and the world there is that which can confer upon the candidate a real as well as a symbolical experience. And this is the identical message of the Graal literature; it speaks too from within the official House of Christian Doctrine concerning that which once inhered therein and is now in the state of withdrawal or profound
latency; but it offers all honour and devotion to the substituted sanctuary which remains, as Masonry offers it in the higher understanding both to Jew and Christian. Here therefore is no enemy setting to at the work of destruction, but here rather are the rumours and voices as if of Unknown Superiors, like a power--which makes for righteousness--between the seat of Peter and the seat of the chief Patriarch, as if something were guiding and consoling all the keepers of the keys, but dissuading them at the same time from the opening of certain doors till that which has been lost is at length restored to the sanctuaries. It is in this sense only that we shall ever get to understand the inner Mystery of the Holy Graal, the Mystery of the Craft Degrees, and of the great, disordered cohort of things from near and far--reflections, rumours, replicæ and morganatic descents from older Mysteries--which make up the cloud of witnesses in the high degrees. The work, not indeed of the same hands but of many at the same work, is therefore everywhere, the traces of the same high intention, the evidence--not less strong because it is not declared openly--of masters, who are also our brothers, watching haply over the quests of humanity and shaping them, at proper seasons, to the true ends.
I conclude therefore (1) that Masonry is herein referred to its true place and is saved otherwise from the category of vain observances that are consecrated by good intention, because it leads us back, after many travellings, to the one subject; (2) that it is an index-finger pointing to other rites, to pure and exalted ceremonies, which--somewhat shadowy, somewhat dubious, yet distinguishable as to their purpose--remain among the records of the past, not without suggestions that, even at this day, the Mysteries have not died utterly.
I have made it plain already that in so far as there is mystic purpose or hidden doctrine in the Graal literature it is at most an echo from afar--a rumour, a legend which had fallen into the hands of romancers. It is as
if Sir Walter Montbeliard, the patron of Robert de Borron, being by the hypothesis a Templar, had told a strange story to the poet of things which he also had heard from afar concerning the Sons of the Valley; it is as if Guiot de Provence, having seen a transcript from Toledo, had compared it with some Templar records belonging to the house of Anjou. These are not the directions of research, but they stand for more likely ways, and I put forward as so many materials of assistance, so many traces of the same implicits perpetuated through several centuries--(a) the Sacramental Mystery of Alchemy as corresponding to the Eucharistic Mystery of the Holy Graal; (b) the mystical pageant of Kabalism as analogical to the Graal pageant; (c) certain quests in Masonry as synonymous with the Graal Quest. The conclusion is that from the middle of the twelfth century, and so forward, there has been always a witness in the world that the greatest and the highest among the holy things have been represented by a certain substitution within the official churches. The churches have not been made void; they are still "those holy fields"; but they bear the same relation to the sacred mystery behind them that Sinai and Horeb, Tabor and Carmel, Gethsemane and Calvary, bear to the official churches. Remember that the highest office in no sense makes void the second best among any offices that are inferior. The Supernatural Graal is without prejudice to the instituted sacrament, even as the transliterations and complexities of Kabalistic interpretation reduce nothing in the literal word.